AXPONA 2017: Less is more for Neat, Audia Flight

Some audiophiles have an unfortunate tendency to judge equipment at first glance by appearance alone.

Often they are guilty of stereotyping products, as in, “Small speaker? Probably small sound.”

Some visitors to the High Fidelity Services exhibit at AXPONA might have made that mistake when they saw the diminutive Neat Acoustics Iota Alpha speakers ($2,380 a pair).

These uniquely styled transducers are floor-standers, but they still are just under 16 inches tall without spikes.

The Iota’s cabinet is internally split into two chambers. The upper half is sealed and contains a 2-inch EMIT planar magnetic tweeter and a 4-inch mid/bass driver. The front baffle is angled back sharply for wide dispersion. The lower chamber contains a downward-firing 5.25-inch woofer and is ported.

Before music starts playing, listeners might wonder about other visual issues as well. What does the tilted top panel do to the absolute sweet spot and imaging? Would musicians sound shrunk-down? How much bass could you expect from a cone smaller than some typical midranges?

All it would take to zap those preconceptions, though, would be an open mind and reasonable hearing acuity

Somehow, Neat has managed to take a collection of design choices that individually do not seem promising and put them together into a speaker that creates a stunning, balanced sound with almost 3-D holographic quality.

A live recording of Elton John’s first hit, “Your Song,” sounded remarkably natural on the Neat speakers. There certainly were no miniature performers here.

The Iotas threw a wide, deep soundstage with precise instrument location. John’s vocals on the speaker, meanwhile, were sharply focused and dead center. Piano had the sparkle Elton tends to bring to it, and bass — while it did not plumb the depths — was quick and tuneful.

At the same time, the optimal listening position was remarkably forgiving. With the Iotas, I would imagine you could crank open the vice on the back of your listening chair and allow your head to lean this way and that.

In addition to this impressive soundstaging, the Iotas’ high-quality drivers created a sound that was enveloping, engaging and addictive. You just kind of soaked up the music, rather than being put off by edginess or boom.

These are the kind of transducers that will tempt you into turning up the volume, as the sound washes over you, and reverberation and other spatial cues seem to come from far left, far right and behind you.

It’s a presentation that is unlike many traditional floor-standers. Neat is on to something here.

Hingham, Mass.-based importer and distributor High Fidelity Services was demoing the Iotas in one of its two rooms.

Support equipment in the room with the Neat Acoustics speakers included the Audia Flight FL Three S integrated amplifier (100 watts per channel, dual mono, $3,995 with phono stage). Audia Flight CD Three ($2,895), AnalogueWorks TT Zero 750D turntable ($2,095 with a Jelco SA-750D tonearm) and an Ortofon 2M Black cartridge ($755).

Power conditioning was via a Vibex Generalife unit ($1,795). Speaker wire and interconnects were from the Lynx line by Signal Projects.

A system in the second room was built around the Audia Flight FL 2 integrated (used as a preamp, $5,295), Audia Flight FLS4 amp ($8,995) and a pair of Verity Audio Finn speakers ($6,995).

I listened to another live recording on this rig: Suzanne Vega doing “Luka.” The Finns put me at third-row center, with Vega’s voice nicely rendered.

All of the equipment in both systems seemed to be of high quality and workmanship, particularly the electronics from Italian company Audia Flight. The stereo amplifier, integrated amp and CD player all sported an impressive parts list and thick, attractive front panels.

In particular, the sound of the moderately priced Neat Acoustics-Audia Flight rig  definitely challenges some farther up the ladder, and takes up far less space. A neat trick, indeed.

AXPONA coverage generously provided by NOBLE AUDIO.

About John Stancavage 196 Articles
Contributing Editor for Part-Time Audiophile